Mother Nature Playing an ‘Evil Hand’ of Global Natural Disaster

Floods have killed thousands in Asia and left millions homeless from Pakistan to North Korea, while fires and drought in Russia have roiled global markets and a tropical storm bears down on Bermuda.

Asian devastation may stretch aid efforts as crops are destroyed at a time of soaring wheat prices, caused in part by Russia’s decision to ban grain exports through Dec. 31. Raw-sugar futures also rose in New York on speculation that Russia may import more to offset drought losses.

In the Atlantic, Tropical Storm Colin reformed and is bearing down on Bermuda with maximum sustained winds of 45 miles (75 kilometers) per hour, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. The storm is expected to drop as much as 5 inches of rain on the island nation starting tomorrow.

“Mother Nature is playing a very evil hand,” Peter McGuire, managing director at CWA Global Markets Pty., said in a telephone interview from Sydney today. “It’s always the poor that suffer.”

More than 1,500 people have died in Pakistan’s northwest and 4 million people are stranded after the deadliest floods in 80 years struck July 22. Five percent of the nation’s rice crop has been damaged, the Rice Exporters Association said, and at least 1.8 million people urgently need food, according to the United Nations World Food Program.

In North Korea, rains triggered landslides that blocked railways, destroyed homes and buried crops, piling on hardship for a country that already needs aid to feed its 24 million people. Floods in China have killed at least 1,072 people this year, affecting 9.7 million hectares of farmland, according to the government.

China Floods

China’s worst floods in more than a decade may cut rice and pork supplies for the largest producer, boosting prices and hampering government efforts to keep inflation under 3 percent. Rice output may fall 5 percent to 7 percent, Li Qiang, managing director at Shanghai JC Intelligence Co., said this week.

Damage to crops and food stores may hinder aid to flood victims and other vulnerable groups in the region and raise concerns of a repeat of the 2008 food crisis, when record prices sparked protests from Haiti to the Philippines. Wheat prices rallied to the highest in almost two years today because of the ban by Russian, the third-largest exporter, and floods in Canada, the world’s sixth-largest supplier of the grain.

On the opposite side of the world, dry weather is also affecting the winter wheat crop in western Australia, said David Streit, senior lead forecaster with Commodity Weather Group in Bethesda, Maryland.

Australian Weather

“The markets are starting to focus on that because wheat is so tight right now,” Streit said.

Adding to the trouble in Russia are forest and peat-bog fires east of Moscow that have shrouded the city in smoke and delayed as many as 140 flights at the capital’s airport.

Carbon monoxide in Moscow’s air rose to as high as 4.8 times the admissible maximum level before tapering off slightly toward evening, the city’s environmental protection department said on its website. The Health Ministry advised Russians to stay indoors, limit physical activity and wear masks when venturing outside.

Emergency crews are battling 558 fires covering 179,596 hectares (693 square miles) across Russia, the Emergency Situations Ministry said on its website today. So far this year, fires have scorched 729,761 hectares, an area about three times the size of Luxembourg, according to the ministry. The fires have killed at least 52 people, the Health Ministry said.

Firefighters and farmers won’t get any relief from nature any time soon, said Streit.

“The ridge that is responsible for the record-setting heat is still going to be with us for the next 10 days,” Streit said.

If the drought continues, it may hinder efforts to plant a winter wheat crop in Russia, Streit said.

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